May 1 – 7:  Celebrate National Small Business Week

A few weeks ago, we told you about National Small Business Week in 2022.  (See Today’s Tip: Bridge Building and National Small Business Week 2022 – Brand Building for Small Business.)  Today, we’re just reminding you that the time is NOW!

The statistics supporting the importance of small businesses are always compelling.  For instance, smallbizgenius.net (using a variety of recognized sources) notes:

  • There are 32.5 million small businesses in the US.
  • 48.9% of small businesses survive five years or more.
  • 77% of small business owners say they feel optimistic about the future of their companies.
  • 50% of all small businesses are operated from home.
  • 82% of businesses that fail do so because of cash flow problems.
  • Small businesses account for 44% of US economic activity.

See 40+ Small Business Statistics: The Ultimate 2022 List (smallbizgenius.net) for more.

With small businesses forming such an integral part of the economy in the United States, we should all take time to celebrate the importance of our local business community.  

What Local Business Owners Can Still Do Now

While National Small Business Week will be underway shortly, a small business owner still has a number of ways to participate.

  • Write a press release about the celebration and your business, announcing upcoming events, sales, celebrations, etc. (See our article about writing our own in 2020.)
  • Send customers and staff a thank you note, letting them know that you appreciate their importance to your success and reminding them that their support also helps keep the national economy strong.  (Check out our “How To” piece on creating your own thank you cards.)
  • Use your social media to call attention to National Small Business Week and share some of the many resources available.
  • Participate in and support other National Small Business activities in your region.  To help you identify relevant events, go to the SBA web site, which provides an easy-to-use tool.  All you need to do is provide a zip code, and you will get a list of functions in an area up to a 200 mile radius. [See National Small Business Week (sba.gov).]  You just may find a quick and easy way to support this cause. 
  • And . . . while you are at this site, check out all of the many very useful tools the Small Business Administration (SBA) makes available, including a virtual summit May 2 – 5.

With the week’s observance about to get underway for 2022, you have no time to waste.  However, you can also consider any time spent now a great long-term investment in your early planning for National Small Business Week 2023!

Pays to Be “Best of”

Recently, my local newspaper conducted an annual “Best of” campaign/competition among area businesses.  The idea is to have subscribers vote for the best examples of local businesses across numerous categories.   The process spans several months and ends with an award ceremony at an area restaurant during which the winning platinum, gold, and silver winners receive their plaques and 15 minutes of fame.  The winners are announced and/or spotlighted in a special edition of the newspaper (which, coincidentally, seems to be a popular venue for winning businesses to take out ads congratulating their employees and constituents).

While some cynics might pay the greatest amount of attention to the potential for ad revenue generated by this process for the paper, I happen to believe a great service is being offered to local businesses – providing an opportunity to earn publicity and bragging rights by being identified as a customer favorite by the customers themselves.

Awards can be a great way of calling attention to your brand.  Very often, these local contests have so many very specific categories, your chance of finding the right one (and ultimately winning!) are good.

If you are wondering just how common these contests are, I suggest you do an Internet search of the term “best of” business awards or some other similar variation, and I believe you will be surprised by the large number of specialized local, regional, and national activities of this kind that exist.  If you do not find one that seems likely to be suitable for your business, I would very frankly be quite surprised.

If, on the other hand, you question whether participation in such an exercise really provides much benefit to the business, “According to a research study by Hendricks & Singhal of the University of Western Ontario and Georgia Institute of Technology, it was revealed that more than 600 quality corporate award winners had 37 percent more sales growth and 44 percent higher stock price return than their peers.” (Source: Business.com)

Also, I suggest you talk to the many candidates who wage extensive campaigns to encourage voters to nominate and vote for their operations. 

Speaking from Experience . . .

You see, I also have some personal experience with “Best of” successes of this kind and found lots of value in linking the building of our brand to recognition.  Any label that identifies you as one of the best of pretty much anything is helpful.

The specific example I’m remembering dates back many years.  My employer was a fairly small local firm in the process of becoming a regional operation with national aspirations.   As you are no doubt aware, getting an audience that knows you one way to begin seeing you a bit differently can be very challenging (which is also the reason rebranding takes time and effort).  Although we probably had no right to believe we stood a chance of winning, we entered a contest that was naming the Best Large Place to Work in Pennsylvania.  (Best “small” company was a separate category . . . and the one we’d have preferred to use as our niche because we thought we’d compete more successfully; however, we had just a few too many employees.)

Needless to say, a considerable amount of time, energy, and resources were devoted to this process and assembling the extensive materials used to make our case.  This particular contest also involved a survey of all our existing employees, a task that required some fairly extensive coordination and choreography to collect sufficient data and to do so in a timely manner.

Much to our surprise at the time, we were named the 2nd Best Large Place to Work in Pennsylvania.  Having your brand recognized in this new way by a credible, independent, third-party source provided some immediate momentum to our efforts to convince our audience and constituents that we had, indeed, become a regional player . . .  while also giving them grounds to believe us when we said we’d someday perform on a national stage!

Upon winning, we immediately prepared a press release (in addition to that of the contest sponsor) to promote our victory.  We then disseminated this information as widely as possible and encouraged our readers to check the contest background material provided by the contest organizers.   Needless to say, we immediately adopted the recognition as part of our brand and brand iconography . . . and we began including the information on all sales literature, as part of our company boilerplate description, in various locations across our web site, and in all appropriate corporate correspondence.   Furthermore, we were able to use this designation as part of our self-promotion for many years because recognition of this “Best of” kind tends to have a pretty good shelf life – all of which made our original investment in time and resources very worthwhile and a bargain for the return we received.

That said, we did not win every contest we ever entered . . .but had enough success to consider activities of this kind to be part of our overall branding strategy!

The Lesson to Be Learned

My above example is just one of many ways in which “Best of” successes can be used to shape your brand.  For instance, a small privately owned area drug store has used our local newspaper competition to build a reputation for having the “Best Sandwiches” in town.  Word has spread, so the sandwich shop was able to start experimenting with take-out dinner entrees as well.   While the paper’s publicity was essential to this expanded rebranding of the pharmacy, the fact that the subs they made really are terrific certainly helped!

Similarly, several companies have found sufficient value in these contests to buy paid advertising that asks people to vote for their businesses.  While I don’t necessarily advocate this later approach as necessary, I offer the information as further evidence of the need to seriously consider identifying and participating in “Best of” activities suitable to your needs.

However, the local pharmacy’s experience is instructive in yet another way because:

In the end, you can’t ever talk the talk without being able to walk the walk!!

Your participation in such contests is just a means of calling attention to qualities that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.  Then again, isn’t that part of the basic mission of branding.

Press Release Generator – Sample Press Release Announcing a New Hire

In an earlier article, we discussed Press Releases as Another Opportunity for Branding.  Specifically, we addressed some of the basic criteria needed to produce a successful PR piece, including discussions about:  Topics, Voice, Audience, Outlets, Format, Quotes and Photos, and Post-Submission Follow-up.  In a second article, we wrote a Press Release to Introduce Ourselves as Part of National Small Business Week (in 2020).  In yet another article, we provided a general Press Release Generator – Identifying Your Content.  At that time, we promised to begin providing examples of the specific kinds of press releases we have mentioned just in case anyone happens to still be sitting staring at a blank page after having crumpled up a dozen failed efforts.

In getting started, the rule of the 5 W’s still applies, so we encourage you to review our earlier articles.  We also want to remind you that voice matters – you must write as though you were a totally objective journalist preparing the story.  Similarly, the content must be of interest to the audience of the intended publications.

That said, the announcement of new employee hires and/or promotions are among the most common press releases and the easiest to place – assuming the publication has a section for including such pieces.  (Many do – particularly trade magazines and papers.)  However, be aware that some outlets might be willing to include all or most of the information you provide . . . but many will reduce your words to a skeletal, bare-minimum sentence or two.  If that is the standard practice, a quick glance at past issues will let you know whether new hires and promotions are featured and the kind of space devoted to each one.

To make sure the same press release works for most circumstances, you just need to be sure the essence of your PR article is in the opening sentences with all other less critical information following (realizing that much could be cut by certain targets).  Also, plan to include a head-and-shoulder photo of the featured employee.

Below is a fill-in-the-blanks-template:

_________________

PRESS RELEASE – For Immediate Release

CONTACT INFORMATION:

[Company Name]

[Contact Name]

[Phone Number]

[E-mail Address]

[Date]

[HEADLINE ex.  NAME (of the New Hire) JOINS COMPANY NAME]

[CITY, STATE, MONTH DATE][COMPANY] has announced the addition of [EMPLOYEE FULL NAME] as the new [TITLE].  In this new capacity, [EMPLOYEE LAST NAME ONLY] will be responsible for [BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DUTIES].

Note:  Body paragraphs then follow this opening (i.e., background information, quotes, company description, etc.)

Before joining [COMPANY], [EMPLOYEE LAST NAME ONLY] served as the [TITLE OF OLD JOB] for [NAME OF OLD COMPANY] from [START DATE OF MOST RECENT OLD JOB] to [END DATE OF MOST RECENT OLD JOB].  Specifically, [he/she] handled [MENTION DUTIES]

Note:  Add the next paragraph when the past history of employee includes multiple jobs.  Repeat as needed to encompass complete work history, incorporating the most relevant and recent positions.  (Typically, no need to go back to part-time jobs while in school!!)  You can also choose to insert any education and/or licensing credentials that might be useful once past jobs are addressed.

Prior to that position, [EMPLOYEE LAST NAME ONLY] was also employed by [SECOND OLD COMPANY] as a [TITLE] from [DATE] to [DATE].

According to [NAME OF NEW SUPERVISOR OR OTHER HIGHLY PLACED OFFICIAL WILLING TO BE QUOTED], “[COMPANY] is very pleased to be adding an individual with the skill and experience needed to successfully enhance our operations and meet our goals for growth and customer satisfaction.  We fully expect [EMPLOYEE FULL NAME] will be an asset in the years to come that allows us to provide our customers with the high-quality products and services they deserve.”

Note:  Optionally add contact information.

“While[EMPLOYEE LAST NAME ONLY] will be reaching out to constituents soon, [he/she] can be contacted before then at [PHONE AND EXTENTION] or [E-MAIL].”

Note:  Your “boiler plate” company description that outlines the products, services, history, location, hours, etc. then gets added.  See our Style Guide for further information.

Also, please be aware that this “new employee” template can be easily adapted to address employee promotions.  We plan to provide an example of that kind of press release soon.

_________________

As always, we welcome any thoughts or feedback, and we encourage you to comment by using the space provided below.  While we intend to provide other sample press releases in the coming weeks, we would be happy to receive special requests. 

Want a Word document of this example? Just click!

Good luck!

How We Doin’ So Far?

Our blog – Brand Building for Small Business – has now existed for two years . . . so the time seemed right to stop and perform some self-examination AND (even more importantly) ask for some feedback.

When we defined OUR brand, we determined that our focus would be providing a useful tool to smaller businesses – the kind of largely under-appreciated entrepreneurs who form such an important portion of the American business landscape.  (Also – in retrospect – a group that has been hit particularly hard by the recent pandemic of 2020-21 and in need of every possible competitive advantage that can be made available.)  Having worked many years for a company that targeted this same audience (a company that was – in fact – a small, underdog start-up at the time I was hired), Carole and I felt we brought some meaningful knowledge and expertise to the table.  Hopefully (two years later), you – our audience – agrees.

In establishing our brand, we also decided that we wanted to have a DYI (Do-It-Yourself) focus – believing that many small business owners would of necessity be taking on the challenges of building their own brands.  Consequently, we have tried to offer a blend of the conceptual framework needed to build a successful brand as well as practical tips and instruction.  Specifically, we offer thoughts on:

  • Identifying your audience
  • Establishing (and communicating) the philosophy that guides your development of products and services
  • Embodying a strong customer service orientation
  • Creating mission and vision statements to serve as a reminder of your brand and your short- and long-term goals as an organization
  • Building the visual elements of your brand (such as your logo, letterhead, envelopes, business cards, etc.)

Note:  Learn more about these brand “building blocks.”

In fact, we have focused on providing concrete tips and instruction (and sometimes even templates) to assist the budding entrepreneur in being successful in creating a brand without having to break an already tight budget.  Basically, we’re trying to share some of the knowledge that we acquired the hard way through trial and – all too often – error!  To enable you to avoid some of our missteps, we’ve tried to help you define your brand and create the tools needed to have a unique visual identity. We have tried to emphasize and demonstrate the importance of creating an attitude toward customers that gives real life and substance to your brand and shows that you both “walk the walk” and “talk the talk.”

In addition, we have sought to help you recognize the importance of seizing every opportunity to promote your brand to the public.  Toward that end, we discuss some of the many chances an entrepreneur has while still maintaining a DYI focus.  For instance, we offer instruction on creating and inexpensively disseminating press releases as well as creating sales collateral, web sites, direct mail materials, ads, thank you cards, editorial calendars, and more.  In particular, we have sought to impress upon you the importance of using such platforms to highlight your brand . . . while simultaneously using your branding experience to enhance the effectiveness and results of such opportunities.

About a year ago, we started supplementing our longer, more in-depth, instructional materials with some Quick Tips and Monday Motivational messages to serve as fast, easily absorbed reminders that might help keep the subject of branding at the forefront of your minds and consciousness.

While we have been gratified to watch our audience grow, we are always hoping to reach even more of you even faster . . . and are particularly appreciative when we recognize a regular, repeat reader.  You’d might be surprised to know that some of you who have consistently “Liked” our content have actually become quite important to us and are even part of the way in which we measure the success of a specific article.  When we have NOT seen you “Like” a post or comment upon our content in a while, we miss you and feel like we have left you down!

All that said, we do plan to keep keeping on . . . but would love to receive some more feedback about how you think we are doin’ so far . . . as well as some requests about where you would want to see us head in the future.  Such interaction would be extremely helpful and would better enable us to help you even more.  You can use the Comment box below to get a message to us or you are welcome to send us a private e-mail at brandbuildingforsmallbusiness@gmail.com.  We promise to consider your input carefully.

Meanwhile, good luck with your branding efforts . . . and keep checking out AND SHARING our newest content at www.brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.com.

Approaching Social Influencers: Sample Text

In a recent post on Approaching Social Influencers (read that story here), I laid out components for drafting a pitch to your influencer of choice and said that I would provide some sample text going forward.  Today, I’m making good on that promise.  Below, you’ll find a quick reminder of the recommended components side by side with the corresponding fleshed out sample pitch. . . .

If you’d like, you can view the sample text here in full without the side-by-side explanation.

Hope you’ve found this helpful!  (And in case you were wondering, the Daily Deal group admin did feature the product, so . . . SUCCESS!  I hope you find an opportunity that’s perfect for you and your product as well!) 

If this sample pitch does prove useful for you guys, one or two additional samples will follow (I’m currently working on a pitch for a couple products for Christmas time).  Let me know of any questions or comments in the “Leave a Reply” section below. 

Branding Through Blogging

 If you haven’t considered starting your own company blog, you should, because that vehicle can be extremely useful in developing and promoting your brand.

Specifically, a blog:

  1. Creates a platform for defining who you are to existing and potential customers . . . as well as creating an additional regular need to further define yourself as you produce the ongoing content for your blog.
  2. Provides an opportunity to promote specific products and services while giving you the opportunity to highlight differentiating qualities – your sales advantage!
  3. Gives you a platform for telling your side of any story involving controversy or dispute.
  4. Can help humanize your company – associating a name and face with your operations.  (Toward that end, you might want to consider giving your key employees the chance to guest blog rather than assuming you need to produce all of the articles yourself, an approach that offers the added benefit of showcasing the depth and expertise of your organization.)
  5. Establishes a venue for starting a dialogue with your customers, especially highlighting the customer service philosophy you want associated with your brand.
  6. Provides a tool for generating new opt-in customer leads.  (Collecting e-mail addresses as part of your blog also develops a mailing list to push out notifications of new articles being available.)
  7. Adds valuable content to your website that can help boost your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) because substantial amounts of fresh content have a beneficial effect.
  8. Creates a platform for discussing your community involvements and charitable activities, which are elements of most company brands.
  9. Forces an ongoing process of self-examination crucial to staying on course with your branding strategy . . . while providing useful frequency in keeping the visual elements of your brand in front of your audience.
  10. Encourages the development of your online brand personality and social media presence as you repopulate content across those outlets.

Plus . . . you get to build new accompanying skills learned while managing your blog.

With so many potential benefits, what is the possible downside?

Full disclosure – the company that I worked for across many years never did start an official company blog during my tenure, though I was certainly a proponent and made the suggestion several times.  That said, I understood the reluctance – with the main obstacle being the potential drain on resources.  To be successful, a blog requires regular content;  you have to assume many hours of talent will be spent:

  • Writing the articles.
  • Building and maintaining the web site presence that houses the blog.
  • Updating/removing/archiving out of date content.
  • Responding to any feedback . . . and perhaps retooling operations to address this market intelligence.
  • Monitoring impact upon SEO and social media activities.

Furthermore . . .

If you elect to highlight the efforts and contributions of key employees and make them part of your brand, any loss of talent to other companies (for example, an employee leaves your business to work for the competition) is magnified and becomes even more potentially damaging to your success.

The Bottom Line:  To Blog or Not To Blog – That is the Question

While I understand the possible downside, I suspect the risk of committing to a blog might be greater for large established companies than small ones.  If you have the necessary patience and commitment . . . as well as the required communications skills, I believe a blog can be a very useful tool in building and maintaining your brand identity.  While you will certainly be devoting key resources, the content you create can provide many ancillary benefits, including support of your marketing, social media, and web development activities (among others).  Just know that, like every other worthwhile endeavor – any payback is in direct proportion to the time, effort, and talent invested!

New Year Resolution: Perform an Annual 5-Step Brand Wellness Checkup

As I write this article, a New Year has just begun . . . bringing a much-welcomed fresh start. 

We all hope (and optimistically expect) that 2021 will be a much better, more normal year for all of us – including small businesses that suffered such hardships during 2020.  For them (our primary audience), I offer my best wishes for a strong start as well as a suggestion for an additional New Year’s resolution:  performance of a simple “annual brand checkup” to identify and make any needed adjustments.

Please note that I have chosen the word “checkup” very carefully to suggest a simple self-help exercise – not a complete “brand audit” that can be highly structured, very time consuming, and quite expensive when third parties are utilized.  As a quick DIY alternative that can, therefore, be accomplished much more frequently, the 5 Steps of a Brand Wellness Checkup include the following:

  1. Examine all of your advertising, web site, and collateral sales and instructional material to make sure the documents conform to your Style Guide.  If they do not, you need to determine whether the materials or the guide need updating.
  2. Determine whether the qualities used to define yourself and, therefore, your brand are still the right ones and are practiced daily by your staff and operations.  To do this, talk to your employees and check in with a few of your regular customers.  (Since we are talking about a checkup – not an audit – a number of informal conversations might be all that is needed . . . as opposed to surveys, telemarketing efforts, research focus groups etc.)
  3. Look at your logo and branding statements with a fresh eye to determine whether they still reflect who you are and want to be.  If not, incorporate a gradual revision into your plans – allowing sufficient time and resources to do the job well.
  4. Revisit your customer service protocols to make sure they are delivering the level of excellence you seek, making any needed adjustments to your practices.
  5. Reinforce your branding message with your staff to make sure your identity is getting communicated to customers in the intended way.

Remember, the point of this exercise is to make sure that at least once a year you stop and revisit your most basic branding decisions and their implementation.  By doing so annually, you can make sure you do not unwittingly drift off course . . . and can make minor adjustments to right yourself before a major, potentially difficult, and expensive overhaul is required.  (To learn more about activities associated with the items mentioned above, visit our menu item labeled “Your Brand:  The Beginning” or visit this page.)

While most New Year’s Resolutions are abandoned by February, this goal is one that can and should be done as early as possible at the start of the year.

Good luck . . . and keep thinking positive thoughts about 2021 and beyond.